Henrik Stenson lives up to his billing and captures the 2017 Wyndham Championship. His victory is another notch for the stoic Swede, whose career has seen both highs and lows.
Henrik Stenson entered last summer's Wyndham Championship as the prohibitive favorite. The strapping Swede, known for his pure ball-striking and savage sense of humor, arrived at Sedgefield Country Club ranked No. 9 in the world, making him the highest-rated player in the 2017 field. The Wyndham is now the final PGA Tour stop before the FedExCup Playoffs, meaning it’s a must-play for those looking to earn points to either qualify for, or improve their standing, entering the Playoffs.
However, without the lure of gaining Ryder Cup points, many of the world’s best took the week off in 2017. So Stenson — the 2016 British Open champion, Olympic silver medalist, and 2013 FedExCup champion — was the man to beat at Sedgefield.
He lived up to his billing early in the week, first joining forces with the McConnell Golf team to capture the Wednesday Pro-Am, then followed by an opening-round 62 that left him one shot off the lead.
Eventually, however, the 41-year-old would need a Sunday back-nine birdie barrage to fire a 6-under 64 and eke out a one-stroke victory over PGA Tour rookie Ollie Schniederjans. A 24-year-old, former three-time All-American at Georgia Tech, Schniederjans rolled in a 40-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole in Sunday’s final round.
Then, he nearly holed out for an eagle from 163 yards at the par-4 18th. The solo second was the best finish of his career and fifth inside the top 10. “I had to keep on making birdies,” said Stenson. “Ollie was surely not backing down. I thought I had a two-shot cushion. As I walked over to the 18th hole and looked around ... ‘Oh, OK, Schniederjans birdied it as well. So, I better scramble a par here to get the win."
With Schniederjans watching the TV broadcast and hoping for a tie, Stenson missed a 35-foot birdie putt on No. 18 just right of the cup, before calmly draining a 3-footer to clinch his first victory since his historic 2016 Open Championship at Royal Troon — where Stenson outgunned Phil Mickelson for his first major in a final-round showdown for the ages. “When I stuffed it on No. 18, I thought that’s probably going to be a playoff,” said Schniederjans. “Stenson birdied 17 and got par on 18. Hats off to him — he had a great finish, too. Just one short.”
Low scores and tight leaderboards once again were the norm at Sedgefield. With seven holes left for the final pairing, a quartet of players — Stenson, Schniederjans, Ryan Armour, and Kevin Na — shared the lead at 18 under.
“It was anyone’s tournament on the back nine,” said Stenson, who had four birdies in a five-hole stretch of the back nine on both Saturday and Sunday.
Finishing in solo third was former Wake Forest star Webb Simpson, who carded a three-under 67 to finish at 18-under 262. The Charlotte resident and 2012 U.S. Open champion, who claimed his first PGA Tour title at the 2011 Wyndham Championship, recorded his fourth career top-6 Wyndham result.
Meanwhile, 2015 Wyndham champ Davis Love III — who at 53 years old was seeking to become the oldest winner in PGA Tour history — finished eight shots back in a tie for 10th.
Stenson left his Callaway Epic driver in his locker all week and he certainly didn’t need it on the par-70 Sedgefield course. After battling injuries early in the season, Stenson managed to set a Wyndham tournament record — finishing at 22-under 258 to break the Ross course’s 72-hole record set by Carl Pettersson in 2008 and matched in 2017 by Si Woo Kim. In addition, with the victory Stenson not only earned $1,044,000 and 500 FedExCup points, his sixth career Tour victory also made him Sweden’s winningest man of all-time, distancing himself from Pettersson and Jesper Parnevik, who each captured five PGA Tour titles.
Ironically, Stenson wasn’t even supposed to be in Greensboro. The tournament was a late addition because Stenson needed to reach 15 starts on the PGA Tour to keep his card for the new season.
“It’s a bit of a tough stretch to play five in a row, but I wanted to secure my 15 and hopefully pick up some momentum and surely I did,” he said. “It’s funny how it goes. Sometimes it’s just a coincidence why you decide to go to a tournament and make a change in your schedule, and this time it certainly worked out for a lot of good. This is a great tournament. We’ve been looked after very, very well. They do a lot for the fans and for the players this week.”
Ups and Downs
Stenson made his first major stamp on the game in 2013, when he completed a remarkable feat by winning the FedEx-Cup in America as well as the Road to Dubai, the European Tour equivalent. But things haven’t always run so smoothly for the stoic Swede.
A natural lefty who didn’t start playing golf until he was 12, Stenson turned pro in 1998 and found some early success on the European Tour. But at the 2001 European Open at the K Club in Ireland, his game and his confidence took a major hit. Playing with Miguel Angel Jimenez and Sandy Lyle, Stenson came to the K Club’s 13th hole and hit a massive slice that would not have been so alarming if he had not hit a massive hook on the same hole a day prior.
Stenson said he had no idea where the ball was going and was so spooked by his lack of form that he walked off the course and withdrew. “After nine holes, I told the guys they’d be better off without me,” Stenson recalled. “The balls were all over the place.”
In 2002, he managed just eight cuts in 22 events and fell to No. 621 in the world rankings. Yet, Stenson slowly made his way back among the game’s elite, winning in 2004, earning a spot on the European Ryder Cup team in 2006, joining the PGA Tour in 2007, and claiming his then-biggest victory at the 2009 Players Championship.
Stenson would endure another downturn soon after, eventually falling back to as low as No. 230. Much of his second slump was attributed to financial setbacks suffered in a Ponzi scheme from which Stenson was swindled out of more than $7 million. The scam’s mastermind, Allen Stanford, was later convicted of fraud and sentenced to 110 years in prison.
“After I won the Tour Championship and the FedExCup, I actually flew from Atlanta to my home in Orlando having collected more than $11 million,” Stenson said. “And when I was on the plane,
I worked out that I was flying over the federal prison in Florida where Stanford will likely be for the rest of his life. Yeah, there was satisfaction in that. But it was more thinking about all those people who lost a tremendous amount of money to him but weren’t fortunate enough to make a lot of it back.”
For Stenson, the road to his 2017 Wyndham Championship title has not been without the occasional pothole. But Sweden’s greatest golfer is experienced and mature enough to realize that life is full of ups and downs.
“Of course, I’ve been low and frustrated at times,” he said. “But I’m not giving up. I’m not a quitter. I’ll always bounce back.”